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During the Beer Industry Summit in New Orleans, alcohol enthusiasts gathered to discuss the latest trends in brewing and cannabis legalization. The latter became a major topic during the event, due to the growing fear among many attendees about the effects rising marijuana consumption could have on the beer industry.

Cannabis Sales on the Rise

Those who have been closely monitoring legal marijuana sales know that the concern is very real. In 2014, cannabis sales in the US reached $2.7 billion, which was a 74 percent increase from the previous year. Analysts predict that by 2019, sales will hit $10.8 billion. Currently, the beer industry rakes in over $101 billion annually. While the sales gap is still too large for breweries to hit the panic button, there are other reasons why cannabis could potentially hinder beer consumption in the future.

Alcohol’s bad reputation for claiming innocent lives might be catching up finally. With recreational cannabis legalization already in full swing in four states, and six more voting this year, competition between the two industries seems inevitable. As of 2014, California has led alcohol consumption with $6.9 billion in annual sales. A shift in marijuana laws in the state could curb this figure dramatically. “If people are replacing some amount of alcohol with cannabis consumption, it is a net positive for public health,” highlighted Taylor West, of the National Cannabis Industry Association.

Internal Battles

In addition to outside competition, there is also an internal battle going on in the alcohol sector that could be affecting consumption. Beer, wine, and liquor businesses are all fighting for their own stake in the industry. So it’s not just cannabis they have to worry about, but also the varied drinking preferences of consumers. Experts say that it will take some time for marijuana to gain solid ground, but with legalization slowly but surely coming around, beer-related businesses are already taking precautionary measures , which includes boosting marketing efforts and participating in events like beer-sponsored marathons (appealing to unconventional demographics), to make sure they won’t get dethroned any time soon.

An area that alcohol groups can’t touch is medicinal benefits. It is likely that cannabis activists will continue to press in this direction to win over consumers, and boost the drug’s wavering reputation. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, roughly 88,000 people die from alcohol-related deaths in the US every year. To counter this, cannabis researchers have released numerous reports highlighting that there is no such thing as marijuana overdose. “Because cannabinoid receptors, unlike opioid receptors, are not located in the brainstem areas controlling respiration, lethal overdoses from Cannabis and cannabinoids do not occur,” explained the National Cancer Institute.

For some alcohol businesses, the mainstream presence of cannabis has actually helped increase sales and local foot traffic. In Colorado, alcohol excise taxes rose 2.1 percent from June 2014 to May 2015, suggesting that there is a symbiotic relationship between the two that many failed to pick up on during the legalization process. That being said, marijuana legalization may not be that bad for the thriving beer space. With a huge head start, the fully regulated industry is already riding on some serious sales momentum. But only time will tell if the two sectors can grow side-by-side, or if they’ll turn on each other and go head-to-head in the battle dictated by consumer preferences and consumption trends.

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